In Praise Of Clutter

By Rita Erlich

sibylesque Rita Erlich Quote

So what’s clutter, exactly, that we should be decluttering? As if it were stress, and we need to de-stress. There seems to be a theory that stress and clutter are somehow linked. Get rid of them both so you can start afresh, clean, pure, and untroubled.

It’s a dangerous path. I heard years ago that there was a de-clutter at the Royal Botanic Gardens in the early 20s. ‘All these papers!’ someone must have said, clucking a bit. Why, who needs all these old letters! And out went decades of great scientific correspondence, all the letters of Ferdinand von Mueller, the government botanist, who had corresponded with botanists all over the world.

Sibylesque food and memoriesHerald Sun

That wasn’t clutter, those were archives. I’ve always hung on to papers and documents. Just in case they come in handy. And they do: I have a copy of a book of recipes that was produced by (and for) the creches of Paris about thirty years ago. It’s a record of French nutrition for children and eating habits that I think has great value and potential application here.

And I had decades of menus from decades of reviewing restaurants before the internet meant all menus were on line. They were donated to the State Library of Victoria – and became the basis of a book, Melbourne by Menu. It made the 7.30 report on the ABC. That made me laugh: I tidy up my study and it becomes a television item.

But supposed clutter is about more than papers. The rule (so I’m told) is that if you haven’t used it or worn it (whatever it is), you should ditch it. But there’s that platter that sits on the dresser. I don’t use it, because there’s a hairline crack in it. I won’t throw it out. It’s the last piece of the dinner service my mother bought when she arrived in Melbourne in the 1920s. Every so many years I point it out to my adult sons, who look a bit misty-eyed at the tangible memory of the grandmother who loved them and whom they loved. We’re a family for whom food matters. When I look at the platter, when her grandchildren look at it, we’re thinking about all the meals that were served from it and all the people, now gone, who sat around the table.

platterThat’s not clutter. It’s the start of a story that begins when my mother arrived in Melbourne as a teenager. There are stories everywhere in my house. The little tapestry made by a cousin of my father’s, the drawings given to me by friends now gone, my late mother-in-law’s embroidered napkins. Who made these? Let me tell you her story.

Clutter is the stuff that has no use at all. I can recognise rubbish when I see it. I’ve just thrown out a dozen glass jars that have no lids. A jar without a lid is no use for those of us who re-use endlessly for home-made preserves. I’ve just ditched three little bottles of nail polish that I bought years ago, thinking that they were good colours and that one day I might apply them to my nails. No story there, they can go.


Rita ErlichRita Erlich is a passionate food writer and consultant, who pioneered many areas of food writing and criticism. She writes about food in its many forms and meanings – restaurants, recipes, nutrition, history, culture, agricluture, wine – in newspapers, magazines and websites. Her latest book will be co-written with chef Scott Pickett, of Estelle and Saint Crispin.

Photo Source: Herald Sun



There is a link between Wisdom and Age, but, maybe, not the one you think.

by Kerry Cue

Sibylesque Barry Schwartz Quote

We know as we age that we are, indeed, much wiser than in our youth, but can we really justify this assumption? In their book The Art of Wisdom and the Psychology of How We Use Categories, Frames, and Stories to Make Sense of the World, Barry Schwartz and Kenneth Sharpe give some insights into art of acquiring wisdom. (You will find a review at Brainpickings.)

Sibylesque   Christine de Pizan  Book of Queens

Dancing around the notes on a page applied specifically to rules.

 ‘A wise person knows when and how to make the exception to every rule… A wise person knows how to improvise… Real-world problems are often ambiguous and ill-defined and the context is always changing’.

Barry Schwartz gave a good example of this applied wisdom in his TED lecture on Our Loss of Wisdom.

In this lecture Schwartz lists the Job Description of a hospital janitor. This job description lists tasks but does not mention a patient as if a hospital janitor cleaned in a parallel universe devoid of human life. Yet the janitors that showed wisdom did not follow the letter of the law. One janitor knew not to vacuum in a visitor’s room at one point because a patient’s family was sleeping there. Another janitor did not mop a floor because a patient was taking their first tentative steps around their room following an operation.

This is wisdom. It is also something we Sibyls understand. People are different. No two life-situations are the same. Combine the two and there are many possibilities. But here is the catch. You must be creative and flexible, otherwise, your response to any situation will be RIGID, predictable, but not necessarily wise.

 You must also be old. Why? Here is Barry Schwartz again:

 “A wise person is an experienced person. Practical wisdom is a craft and craftsmen are trained by having the right experiences. People learn how to be brave, said Aristotle, by doing brave things. So, too, with honesty, justice, loyalty, caring, listening, and counselling.”

The Erythraean Sibyl  Beauvais Cathedral SibylesqueMy book, Forgotten Wisdom, begins with the words ‘Certainty ended for me on 2nd March, 1995. I was 42 years old’. My forties were the miserable years. They began with learning that my mother was dying of cancer at 66 years of age and continued through a long illness with one child, a sick spouse and, torturously, writing humorous articles for a living.

Yet, talking to my daughter the other day, I realised for the first time that I’m thankful for those 8 years of misery. At the time, I would have paid anything not to live through those years. But now, I wouldn’t give them back. They formed me. Up until that point, the life choices I had made– university courses, husband, children – had materialised. I thought I was in control of life. Then I wasn’t. Now I’m less arrogant, more sympathetic, less rigid, more open and less judgemental.

Am I wise? Wiser, perhaps. At least, I know this: The birth of wisdom follows the death of certainty.

So wisdom is a craft and you need a broad range of experience in life – joy and misery, triumph and disappointment, fear and acceptance, pain and endurance – to hone this craft.

For more Wisdom of The Sibyls see Jennette Williams on the beauty of the older women, Mary Beard on silencing women in the public forum and Doris Brett for a journey through stroke, love and recovery.

Perhaps, the Sibyl’s anthem should be:

Bring on the music of life. Let’s dance.